Don't tug on super-mom's cape

More women lose pride in their motherly duties and think less of themselves when their husbands take over the household
More women lose pride in their motherly duties and think less of themselves when their husbands take over the household chores, according to new research. Image courtesy of Photos.com

This article originally appeared in the Further Findings research blog.

Dads are changing diapers, cooking dinner and shopping for groceries more than ever these days as more women enter the work force.

Although this may seem like a blessing for many overextended moms, helpful dads can hurt a woman's self-esteem, new research has found.

More women lose pride in their motherly duties and think less of themselves when their husbands take over the household chores, according to new research by Takayuki Sasaki, an alumnus of the School of Human Ecology and a researcher at the Osaka University of Commerce in Japan; Bill Swann, professor in the Department of Psychology; and Nancy Hazen-Swann, associate professor of human ecology.

So why do moms feel they have to bear the brunt of homemaking duties? What compels them to put on the super-mom cape?

To find out, the researchers recruited 78 dual-income couples with eight-month old infants. During home-based interviews, they measured the parents' self-esteem, self-liking and self-competence. The researchers also asked them to rate their spouses' weaknesses and strengths regarding emotional engagement with the kids, their physical involvement, responsibility and overall parenting skills.

The findings revealed that women nearly tripled the amount of time caring for the babies by themselves than their husbands. And husbands gave their wives rave reviews for their parenting skills, whereas the wives gave their husbands less than stellar parenting marks.

"We found that in dual-career families, when husbands assume a relatively large, more egalitarian portion of the responsibility for infant care, and wives feel they are doing a good job at parenting, they are more satisfied with their marriages," Hazen-Swann said. "But at the same time, they feel less competent themselves. We believe this is because society still expects mothers to take the major responsibility for infant care even if they work full time. That is, working mothers have accepted society's expectations that they should be 'super-moms' and do it all -- full-time mothering and a full-time job."

While many wives said their "Mr. Mom" husbands were helpful, they gave them low ratings because their child-rearing methods were different from their own. However most women gave their husbands high marks for mundane child-rearing chores like bathing, feeding and diaper changing.

The study, published in the March edition of Personal Relationships, also revealed that women's self-competence (the degree to which they feel capable of accomplishing goals) diminishes when their husbands had more alone time with the kids. However, if the wives thought their husbands were less helpful, they would feel less inferior.